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On MLK's Final Night, He Seemed 'Near Panic'

50 years after his assassination, a fresh look at his last hours
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 4, 2018 8:42 AM CDT

(Newser) – On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on a balcony outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The 50th anniversary of his death brings with it a wave of headlines and remembrances. Among them: Bells across America will ring 39 times Wednesday night, with each chime signifying a year of King's short life, reports CNN. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports bells will toll first at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis at 6:01pm local time—the time King was shot—with the rest of the city and country following. Some of the best coverage:

  • In an excerpt from Redemption: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Last 31 Hours published in the Guardian, Joseph Rosenbloom delves into King's 43-minute final speech at the Mason Temple the night before his death. It returned, over and over again, to the topic of death. King recalled the 1958 incident in which a woman stabbed him at a Harlem book signing; doctors had told him that had he sneezed, the knife blade that sat perilously close to his aorta would have ended it all. Telling that story "seemed to transport him into a profound gloom about mortality—his mortality," writes Rosenbloom, who notes that while King talked about death on many occasions, it was never in such a morose tone. "This night in Memphis, however, he seemed near panic." The full excerpt explains why.

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  • The bullet that took King's life was fired by James Earl Ray, something that five investigations into King's death have established. But that hasn't eliminated the conspiracy theories, with NPR reporting that even some of King's children have expressed serious doubt that Ray acted alone. NPR gives some reasons why—Ray, who was nabbed at a London airport, recanted his confession, for one, and lawyer William Pepper believed him. NPR has much more here.
  • AL.com has the story of the lawyers originally assigned to Ray's case, and it has an odd start: They were flown to London to represent "Ramon George Sneyd." They only learned it was Ray while sitting knee-to-knee in the most secure location they had available: a shower stall.
  • At CNN, John Blake asks "some of the people who knew King best"—an acclaimed biographer, a friend who was with King at the Lorraine Motel, and experts on King's life—to imagine what the world would be like today had the bullet missed King. He presents four scenarios that he admits "may seem trivial to consider in light of King's murder. But part of the reason so many people still deeply mourn King a half-century later is not just because of what the world lost—it's the tantalizing possibility of what more it could have gained." Read them here.
  • CBS News asks the question, "50 years later, where do we stand?" And it gets some big names to answer that and other questions. Read reflections from Gen. Colin Powell, Loretta Lynch, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and musician Trombone Shorty here.
  • The AP reprints three stories from its coverage of the assassination. You can read them here.
(Read more Martin Luther King Jr. stories.)

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